You can grow food just about anyway. Yes, even you. The truth is you may not, and probably won’t, get it all right the first time around. That’s okay, everyone has to start somewhere. Everyone’s growing conditions are a little different. I could plant the same things as my next door neighbor and his may grow abundantly, my crop fail, and vice versa. But I can give you a few suggestions that will give you a jump start in the right direction. Now I already uploaded this once today, the internet crashed and I’m having to recreate it so hopefully it’s just a good…
I’ve been asked a lot in the last week what I would recommend growing in a smaller garden and the answer to that question really does very for each person. But, I can tell you what I would grow if I only had a small space and was trying to provide some food for my family. At the end of the post, I’ve included two off the cuff garden plans if you don’t know where to start.
01 | I would grow tomatoes.
Full of nutrition and extremely versatile I will always have tomatoes in my garden. If I only had space for a couple tomato plants I would plant cherry tomatoes instead of full sized tomatoes. The crop would ripen sooner and more consistently throughout the season. How would I make sauce you ask? Easy, I broil my cherry tomatoes in the oven. Then I put them in my pot and blend them with an immersion blender. If you want to add things like onions and peppers, you can do that as well.
02| I would grow potatoes.
However, I would find some sort of large pot/container to grow them in. Potatoes when grown well, will provide a good amount of food for your family. We often get about an 8-1 return on what we plant. When purchasing seed potatoes, you can find them at the local grocery stores if you only need a few. Otherwise, you can find them online, at store like Runnings, and local nurseries. If you know the amount you’ll be purchasing is more than what you need. Maybe talk to friends and neighbors to see if they’d like to split the purchase.
03 | I would grow Cucumbers vertically.
Find something you can use as a trellis and grow a couple cucumber plants up it. I’ve used old iron bed frames, fencing, random flower trellises. Get creative. Most people wouldn’t need to go out and purchase something for this. Right now I’m using old wagon wheels.
04 | Grow beans, bush and pole.
Bush beans will give you a fast harvest but they will stop producing at some point. You can usually get a few good waves of beans off of bush varieties. Pole beans will start producing a little before the bush beans give out and will continue to produce all the way through frost. My favorite pole bean variety is Blue Lake, string-less, prolific, and delicious. I have a lot of favorite bush beans. That being said, there are many great varieties of each.
05| Peppers are a great option for small gardens.
With the right varieties, each plant can produce quite a bit of food, and they actually benefit from close planting. I space my plants 12-18” apart depending on the variety. Planting closer together provides a bit of shade for the fruit which results in less sun scald. Peppers are fantastic used in a variety of ways, and the extras can be sliced and frozen for later use. Just don’t thaw them first. Cook them up straight from frozen.
06| I would plant a single Chili Pepper plant.
Now if you absolutely don’t like spice, skip this one. But for most people in Minnesota, a single chili pepper plant would provide all you need for spice. I plant about 30 chili pepper plants because we enjoy spicy food and they are easily dehydrated and stored for year-round use. They are great for the immune system and there are just so many beautiful varieties to try.
07 | I would plant Zucchini.
This is one of those plants that just gives and gives until you get sick of it. I would plant this at the very edge of your garden bed and train it to run out of your garden space. That way it doesn’t take up as much space in the garden as these plants get quite large. One variety I find quite interesting is Zucchino Rampicante. This variety can be grown vertically (with strong support), produces loads of long squash for fresh eating and can be left on the vine to mature into a winter squash for storage. I’ll link to the variety here so you can read more about it. It really is an interesting variety and a new staple in my gardens.
08| I will always recommend you plant nutrient dense greens in your garden that will provide a harvest all season.
In my gardens will always be different varieties of Kale, Chard, and Beets. I know beets are a crop in and of themselves, but the greens are equally as nutritious as the roots and well worth growing. Plus, you get a double harvest! All of these greens are fantastic for the garden. Use them in salads, smoothies, sautéed with garlic and onion, in soups, the list could go on and on. I chop and freeze my excess as the season goes on so I have them for the winter to add to smoothies, soups and casseroles. They provide loads of vitamins and minerals to your families diet and are essential for good health.
09| I would plant Zinnias, Borage and flowering herbs.
I am a huge believer that diversity is key in a garden. To have maximum production out of your plants you need pollinators. Zinnias and Borage attract loads of pollinators to the garden and they make beautiful cut flower bouquets. Herbs are another great one to have in the garden. Cilantro is fantastic for cooking with and once it goes to flower it attracts tons of beneficial insects. Then you can collect it’s seed, Coriander to use in the kitchen later. I let some of the seed fall so it can regrow for next year. Basil is another great one to harvest for a good chunk of the season for cooking and then let it go to flower if you need more beneficial insects around. It’s also great for keep mosquitoes away when working in the garden. I tuck about a 4” piece in the collar of my shirt. It’s not a cure all but it does help!
10| Think edible landscaping.
There are so many ways to produce an abundance of food in a small space. Container gardening is another great option if you don’t have a front or backyard. I am a huge promoter of edible landscaping. If you have landscaping around your property already, intermix the ornamentals with some edibles! Pole Beans, eggplant, peppers, berry bushes, asparagus, chard, kale, sweet potatoes, grape vine, fruit trees and herbs all make gorgeous additions to your landscaping. Strawberries make a great ground cover and their foliage is absolutely gorgeous in the fall. There are also loads of medicinal plants that are beautiful added to landscaping and will help to keep your family strong as well. I could go on and on.
Each families garden should and will look a bit different.
What I plant in mine, you may turn your nose up at. I would say two things. One, the first year, try to plant the things your family enjoys the most. This will get you excited about growing your own food. Two, if you don’t like a certain vegetable but you’ve only ever had it from the grocery store, try growing your own next year. Everything tastes so much better out of the garden. I thought I didn’t like turnips. Last year I grew some for the first time and they were AMAZING! I will never not grow them again.
The last thing to remember is, you can grow all the food you want but if you don’t eat what you grow, it’s all for nothing. Part of being less reliant on the grocery store will mean you need to change how you eat. This takes time but I promise you can find some recipe on Pinterest or by simply asking your friends on Facebook that will help you enjoy that vegetable you thought you hated.
This last growing season my goal was for us to have fresh vegetables to eat through the winter that we grew. This meant we needed to make better use of the things that store well through the winter. It was an adjustment for sure, especially for our kids, but it was 100% worth it.
The point of all this is, just start somewhere.
If you love cucumbers and you don’t have any ground to plant in, find something that will hold a bunch of dirt, go buy a big bag of potting soil and plant a couple seeds. Maybe you don’t have any land, but a friend or neighbor does and you can make a deal where you grow the garden and they receive a portion of the vegetables as land rent. Or maybe they want to grow a garden anyway and you can split the cost and the workload.
For what it’s worth, I hope this helps! Below are a couple pictures of garden layouts for small gardens to get you imagining what yours could look like. Remember I have other garden plans available for purchase here and through the end of April I have discounted them by 50% and included a 20-minute phone chat so you can gain some confidence starting out.
- What you can expect for upcoming blog postings?
- What I grow for long term storage crops.
- Medicinal plants that grow in our garden.
- Growing guides for different crops.
- Perennial crops you can grow in your northern garden.
- Ways to expand your harvest without digging up more ground.
- Container gardening.
- Does it matter where I buy my plants/seeds?
- How I keep a weed free garden.
Until next time, I hope this gives you inspiration to take a leap of faith and grow something. No one is meant to be self-sufficient and you will not find real security in growing your own food, we need each other. But, it does mean that you aren’t solely reliant on what is on the grocery store shelves and can keep a little bit more of your financial resources in your pocket.